Australia said on Wednesday it was asked by the European Union to withdraw export permit applications for the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca PLC, escalating its dispute with Europe over access to pre-purchased vaccines, Reuters reports.
The Australian government has blamed the delay of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca, which were scheduled to be delivered in late March, for falling behind in its own vaccination schedule.
On Tuesday, the European Union denied blocking shipments of the vaccine to Australia and said it was not responsible for AstraZeneca’s failure to honor commitments to other countries.
The dispute underscores the massive shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccine across the EU and the impact of any brake on the export of vaccines in countries that had reserved doses.
“The EC is discussing the semantics, but at the end of the day, all we want is what the Australians have asked for so that we can get more gunshot vaccines,” the Australian government said in a statement on Wednesday, referring to the executive branch of the EU, European Commission.
Canberra said that the EC asked Australia to withdraw applications for export permits and that AstraZeneca has told Canberra that it has not been able to obtain an export license from Europe to ship previously purchased doses to Australia.
“The EC has been absolutely clear in its public and private statements that no further doses of (the AstraZeneca vaccine) will be released until its own orders have been carried out,” Canberra said.
Australia received an initial shipment of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in late February, which it said was the last one received. It has also imported doses of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc.
The AstraZeneca vaccine that arrived from Europe was the basis for the early stages of Australia’s vaccination campaign, supplementing 50 million injections of the vaccine to be produced locally by CSL Ltd.
Australia has recorded only 909 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, a small number compared to most nations.
But its inoculation program is being delayed with only about 670,000 people vaccinated against an initial target of 4 million by the end of March.
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.